Almost everything in our world goes bad eventually. The milk you bought a week ago will be bad in a while. The leftovers you brought from that Chinese place last Tuesday expired long before but you took them anyway. Hell, even your domains expire if you don't renew them.

Everything is changing, faster than ever before. Some countries even put expiration dates on their laws so that they don't keep around bad ideas for centuries. Smart idea. And yes, also copyrights expire.

Only our blog posts are meant to be there for eternity.

Yes? No, not quite. And yet there is no expiration date we could set in our blog softwares to get rid of them after a while (deactivate, maybe, not necessarily delete them). Think of all those old, useless blog posts, moldering in the attic of your blog, waiting to catch dust, comment spam, or both.

Admittedly, some of the things we write are quite useful for a long, long time. But, admit it, that's not true for a lot or our posts.

So how about a wordpress plugin (or whatever software you use) that does the following:

  • gives you the choice to set an expiration date for every blog post you write (defaulting to does not expire, or maybe something sensible)
  • deactivates said post after the specified period
  • and maybe has some fancy more choices like letting you choose on your dashboard if you actually want it to expire (yes, deactivate or yes, delete) or if you want to reactivate it. For a new expiration period, or forever, finally, because this article turned out to be helpful for all generations to come.

Hm, so what do you think about my crazy Monday night plugin idea? Let me know.

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Windows Vista is now much more secure:

You are not allowed to do this! Do you want to?

What do they call this, half-root? :)

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OpenOffice LogoI am a convinced OpenOffice user. Part of it is because the "old bull" of office suites, Microsoft Office, is expensive, even for students. Even more convincingly, though, MS Office often just plain sucks.

I have worked for a few years as a research assistant, among my major everyday tasks being "please fix my Word document".

Now admittedly, the people I was working for are not even close to being computer geeks, or experienced wordprocessor users, for that matter. But they happen to have a job that requires them to write. A lot. Sometimes documents with a few hundred pages.

Unfortunately, they never really understood what those predefined formats (header? foot note? page break?) actually meant, so they passionately screwed up their entire document's formats. Eventually, a few hundred pages later, it turned out that changing a single line's format for the fiftieth time in a row broke all subsequent 183 pages, requiring them to cry and forward the file to me for help.

Sadly enough, sometimes it was too late. Word had choked itself trying to open the file and left little more than a sad pile of 0s and 1s, unreadable for itself and -- oh lovely closed-source formats -- unfixable by any other program.

Now another time, one person tried to be smart about it. He used OpenOffice, well, actually StarOffice, because he had heard good things about it. He wrote a 200-page-document and, not surprisingly, he made the same mistakes they all did with Word before. StarOffice became quite slow when accessing that document, and yes, it also crashed a few times. My help was only needed shortly, to redefine some font faces for a few foot notes. Eventually, he was fortunately able to finish his document anyway, and he could successfully publish it. Oh surprise. No sad, useless pile of data involved? No, not this time.

This little story leaves us with two conclusions. If you screw up, you'll kill OpenOffice just as well, or at least close to the way you do with Microsoft Office. You are still able to absolutely horribly destroy your documents, just like you always did. Nothing new here. But if you do not want to pay several hundreds of dollars for that, you are right at OpenOffice. Not even mentioning the open source file format which guarantees that you will still be able to access your files in 20 years, and not being locked out of your own documents because Microsoft decides not to support an old 2006 .DOC file anymore in 2015.

Oh, and recently, not even Mac users have an excuse anymore to run MS Office on their boxes: NeoOffice, a native, open source clone of OpenOffice for OS X, released their NeoOffice 2.0 beta earlier this week, and it works like a charm.

So what are you waiting for?

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Some Linux stuff; CC-licensed of flickr by Andrew Lewine; source: thing I like about Open Source programs is that the programmers seem to have a little humor. This leads to things like the "insult" setting for sudo, which makes fun of you everytime you mistype the password. It's interesting to get messages like

"Maybe you should use more than two fingers, next time!

when you happen to hit the Enter key too fast.

Or, today I realized that another command works quite flawlessly:

who mom loves

gives you information about... you. Who else would mom love? Interestingly the Mac OSX programmers don't quite seem to have that kind of humor, so they just allow who am i, which also works on Linux.

Any other funny commands you guys know about?

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As you all know (or not, whatever), I am sharing files between all of my computers using a Linksys NSLU2, running OpenSlug.

Recently, however, I had a few problems because the power connection in my apartment was a little unstable. My whole town seems to have a very fuzzy connection, so power outages of a few seconds happen maybe once or twice a months, resetting all non-battery clocks. Until now, I just restarted the Slug, re-mounted everything in the Slug and on the clients, and it worked again until the next outage a few weeks later.

Lately, it turned into a bigger problem: The power did not go off all the way, but it flickered sometimes (read: daily), killing the poor Slug. Every bigger appliance (including "real" computers) didn't have a problem with that, however the Slug couldn't handle it.

So I asked for suggestions on the mailinglist, and Chacko came up with the idea to connect a few rechargable batteries across the output of the power supply, providing the slug with at least a few minutes of battery backup in case the power goes out, depending on the power consumption of the attached devices etc.

Let's build a custom UPS for the NSLU2!

I made a small sketch of how it is supposed to look like: NSLU2 battery backup <!--more--> I got the parts at RadioShack (you can get them on ebay, too, or wherever). This is what I needed:

  • 1 DC power plug (male), size N (don't let them tell you it's another one, I had to go back to get an exchange sigh)
  • 1 DC power jack (female), same size
  • 1 battery holder for four AA batteries, connected in series. Nice if it is closed (you don't need to get in there often) and a small on/off switch on there is a plus too.
  • 4 rechargable batteries, type AA, Ni-Cd or Ni-Mh
  • some wire to connect all that
  • the usual items to solder it all together (solder, soldering iron)

Heat it up!

Now the actual wiring is really easy. Connect the negative (black) connector of the battery holder to the negative (outer) part of the female connector, together with a short piece of black wire. Now connect the positive (red) connector of the battery holder to the positive (inner) part of the female connector, along with another piece of (red) wire.

Afterwards, solder the other ends of the red and black wire pieces to the male connector, red on the inside, black on the outside.

Close everything (and make sure you didn't produce a short circuit, if you don't want to fry your slug...).

Now you want to make sure when your new cable is plugged between the power adapter and the slug, the slug switches on as expected. If that works, switch it off again.

Now add the batteries. Again, connect power source and batteries, try if the slug works.

Now you can test if the battery backup works: Disconnect the power cord and see if the slug stays on. If so: Success! :)

A few thoughts

1) The batteries. As CN mentioned, the batteries will never get fully charged. That's good (so they won't explode and whatnot) but it means your "UPS" will not quite last forever, especially if your battery also feeds a harddrive via the USB port. But it should still give you a considerable amount of backup time until the batteries are empty. (We are speaking about tens of minutes).

Also, with Ni-Cd batteries, it could come to a memory effect (voltage depression). However, the NSLU2 wiki mentions the lowest voltage to run the Slug seems to be around 3.5 volts, which I expect to be reached even by batteries that have the characteristics of a "memory effect". Unlike "greedy" devices (like digital cameras etc), the slug might still work flawlessly with a less than ideal battery voltage. Additionally, the typical "memory effect" happens because of over-, not undercharging Ni-Cd batteries. In this case, this should not happen, because the voltage of the power supply (around 5V) is expected to be a little less than the one of four fully charged batteries (around 1.4V each, 5.6V total). If we are lucky, this keeps our batteries healthy for a long time.

For me, this seems to be the perfect solution. Since none of my other computers have UPSes, I can't access any files during a power outage anyway. But for the short power gaps that happen every once in a while (or very often, like in my apartment), the batteries will reliably keep the slug running until the power is back on.

2) The hard drives. Since my Slug does not feed the harddrives, I still have to find out what will happen when these become powerless and they are switched back on shortly after. Will they stay mounted? Will I still be able to connect to them without manual maintenance on the Slug? We'll see.


Thanks to Chacko (CN) for pointing out this simple yet effective possibility. And thanks to Jabba for helping me geek out and doing the soldering part professionally as usual. :)

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Mom, Dad... this video is really, really funny. (And yes, it is safe for work). What would my parents say if I told them the same?

(via cosi e cosa, thanks, Zach)

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OSCON LogoSo, here we are at OSCON 2006 in Portland, OR. The first day of booth action is over, all t-shirts have been handed out to people, and I already got to meet a lot of very nice and interesting people.

Even though OSCON is not the biggest free software conference in the world, it seems to be one of the most important ones.

We are having a blast here, talking to big business as well as community people, handing out a lot of coasters etc (want some? Come see us at booth 810!) and socializing with some of the finest people in the Open Source community.

Yesterday's Beerforge party (sponsored by the OSL, Jive Software and OTBC) in a fine bar here in Portland was a full success too. We really rocked the place and were having a lot of fun. Thanks for stepping by, all of you!

Tomorrow, the OSL is going to have an invitational event at its own facilities in Corvallis, OR where our friends and clients can take a look at our offices and data centers, chat about things and maybe pet their servers a little. I expect it to be a really exciting event too.

You see, that's how cool Open Source can be. If you are at OSCON, make sure you meet us at our booth. We'll be happy to meet you.

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Last week, I was on vacation in New York City where I met a German friend of mine. Both of us brought digital cameras and we got, let's say, pretty trigger happy.

It wasn't till after the vacation that we realized that both of our cameras had mentally stayed where they came from: My camera's time zone was set to Pacific Daylight Time, his to Middle European Summer Time. All in all, this adds up to a difference of 3 or 6 hours respectively to the actual time the picture was taken, and 9 hours between the two cameras. Perfect to find the morning pics between the evening ones and vice versa.

When putting the photos together into a gallery software, this results in a totally messed up order and a pain in the arm to fix it for more than 1.2 gigabytes of pictures.

Searching the internet for a remedy (for the pictures and the headache they made me), I stumbled across a fabulous little tool called jhead. It is an EXIF header and thumbnail manipulator that flawlessly works also on bigger amounts of files.

Not only is the syntax quite straightforward and easy to understand, it also has an armada of neat little options for fixing numerous ugly things that may happen to JPEG header files when taking digital photos.

This is what I did: jhead -ta-6:00 nyc/p.jpg # friend's pics jhead -ta+3:00 nyc/cimg.jpg # mine jhead -n%Y%m%d-%H%M%S nyc/*.jpg # rename uniformly

Besides the time zone issue, I was also able to automatically rename the files according to the (now correct) timestamp so that the pictures taken by different cameras now have uniform file names and can easily be sorted by name.

Thank you for saving a few hours of my life, jhead.

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Google Labs LogoI recently tried out Google's (quite) new Browser Sync extension for Firefox.

So far, I like it. It seems to be synchronizing my bookmarks and long-term cookies between browsers and across operating systems pretty well. But, there are a few things I don't like:

  • When I switch from one computer to the next, it logs me off the first computer. In order to sync the boxes, I therefore have to close every single browser window on computer A so that it copies it stuff to the sync account, and after that, I can open a window on computer B. That's really annoying, especially because I don't close every tab when I leave work just to open the same pages (references etc) yet again the next morning when I get back. There doesn't seem to be a way to get my bookmarks etc. synchronized without actually closing the whole deal.
  • Once, when I installed the plugin on my Mac Mini, the highly sophisticated "conflict resolution" system included in Google Browser Sync wiped out my whole bookmarks toolbar. Now this is reliable, right there. I wonder what I need such an extension for when I lose my bookmarks anyway. It works now, but at that point, I was quite annoyed having to put my most visited web pages on the bar again.

So, I am wondering if there are "competitors' products" we could try out? As in most parts of life, a little competition does not hurt. I remember, I saw an alternative roaming profile extension for Firefox recently, but I forgot to bookmark it (or it was on the toolbar that was wiped by Google ;)) -- in any case, now I can't find it anymore, because the search engines are flooded with articles about Google when you search for Firefox roaming profile extensions and similar.

Can anybody help me out?

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One of the newer technologies on the web are the flash video players used by Google Video and YouTube.

Every once in a while though, on Mac OS X it can happen that these Flash video players don't have sound anymore.

It is pretty hard to figure out why, and the solution is quite random, but on macosxhints I found a comment mentioning that it could be a sampling rate problem:

  1. open /Applications/Utilities/Audio MIDI Setup
  2. check the properties for Built In Output.
  3. It might be set to 96KHz. Change it to 44KHz and audio in Flash will return immediately.

Now, I don't know what software it is messing up that setting, but I am glad it can be fixed.

I am still wondering why the Flash player would care about MIDI settings. Obviously it's no MIDI file that is being played as movie sound there.

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